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Fiat X 1/9
The little Targa that won over America
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Fiat X 1/9

The little Targa that won over America.

The Fiat X 1/9 was a compact two-seater “Targa” mid-engine, created to replace the Fiat 850 Spider. It soon became a success, especially in America, as a result of the skilful inclusion of solutions focused on safety in a two-seater with typical Italian sportiness and design.


In the late ’60s, vehicle safety became an essential factor from the design stage onwards: the experience gained by Fiat, if not so much and not only with the experimental vehicles from the ESV programme, drove the designers towards safer choices, including for open-top cars. The demand for open-air driving with improved safety features could be seen all over the world, but most of all in the States.

In the same years, Marcello Gandini – an expert designer from the Bertone coachbuilder whose creations included the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Lancia Stratos – produced the prototype of a compact two-seater spider with a mid/rear Fiat engine, fitted with an anti-roll bar.

The glorious Fiat 850 Spider needed to be replaced by a more powerful car and Bertone’s prototype served as an excellent starting point. To provide sufficient performance, the decision was made to adopt the outstanding engine from the Fiat 128 Rally, a 1300-cc model that could deliver 75 hp. Despite the differences in the architecture, many other components of the Fiat 128 – including four disc brakes and four independent suspensions – were used to create the compact Targa, known as Project X 1/9, an in-house codename that became its definitive moniker.

The Fiat X 1/9, once again designed by Gandini, featured the original wedge shape in the front, connected to the compact passenger compartment, followed by a third volume that ended in a “Kammback”. The highlights were the retractable headlights and bumper, divided in two by two rubber blocks, leaving the central section open. The low grille followed the upper slope in the opposite direction, with a large body-colour spoiler under the water radiator air intake. Finally, the boot was shaped to accommodate the removable hard roof and battery. 

The compact passenger compartment only provided space for two sports seats with built-in headrests. The dashboard was divided into rectangles: from the air vents to the dashboard with its circular instruments, whereas the central console included the classic Fiat switches and vertical sliders for the fan and heating. Beyond the passenger compartment, behind the driver and passenger seats, in order there were: a small rear window in the middle of the anti-roll bar, above the vertical placement of the fuel tank and spare wheel; the engine in a transverse position, connected to the four-speed gearbox aligned with the wheels; another boot to finish off the horizontal aspect of the third volume, as well as the mechanics. Like in the front, the bumper was divided in two, ending in rubber blocks at the same level as the number plate.

The car was unveiled to the trade press in November 1972. The ideal location to present such an original and sporty car was the Madonie circuit, the historic Targa Florio track along the meandering sunlit roads of Sicily. The Fiat X 1/9 was received positively, for both its aesthetics and the originality of the streamlined wedge-shaped bodywork, and for the balance between the chassis and outstanding performance. At the press conference to unveil the car, the engineer Luigi Zandonà from the Automotive Experiences Department noted the extent to which the Fiat X 1/9 was a nod to the international market, especially in the US. His forecasts would be fully vindicated in the coming years.

Remarkable success, most of all on the other side of the Atlantic, led in 1978 to the creation of the second series: with five gears and higher horsepower, greater care was taken over the Fiat X 1/9’s interiors, followed in 1982 by a takeover by the Bertone brand to continue production for export until 1989.


After almost 110,000 Fiat X 1/9 models had been produced, most of which were sold in the United States, the compact Targa was revamped in late 1978 in the “Five-Speed” version, which increased its displacement and power to 1,498 cc with a twin-barrel carburettor to achieve 85 hp, as well as the new gearbox. Its top speed rose from 170 to 180 km/h. The most striking change to the bodywork could be seen in the bumpers, inevitably adapted to US standards: no longer divided in two, they lost their characteristic rubber blocks and became much larger and more prominent. The interiors also changed, with greater care taken in the quality of the materials.

In early 1982, an even more sophisticated version was introduced, known as “IN”: the changes included the replacement of the classic Fiat logo with Bertone’s, for the bodyshop that continued its production and marketing until its final 1989 version, the “Gran Finale”, for export only.

The sporty character of the Fiat X 1/9 immediately appealed to the Abarth Racing Department, which sensed its potential and began to modify the car with the intention of preparing the successor to the Fiat-Abarth 124 Rally. In 1974, the Abarth engineer Mario Colucci modified one of the cars used at the presentation in Sicily, replacing the engine with an 1800-cc model from a Lancia Beta, a twin-cam close relative of the 124 Rally competition engine. It therefore became possible to immediately use many components that had already undergone comprehensive testing, including front-shift gearboxes and self-locking differentials with varying final ratios.

The result was a prototype with a rear spoiler, a periscope vent for the central engine, widened wheel tracks and striking mudguards, emphasised even more by the red, yellow and green livery featuring on the Fiat-Abarth 124 Rally that season. Entered in Group 5, the Fiat-Abarth X 1/9 Prototipo competed in several rallies, winning the Rally of the Eastern Alps, the 100,000 Trabucchi and the Liburna Rally in Italy. It was less successful internationally, in the Tour de Corse and the Giro d’Italia automobilistico, again during the 1974 season. 

Having assisted in the modifications to the bodywork, Bertone was immediately ready to start production of the 500 models required for Group 4 type approval when Fiat management decided it would be more important to invest in the bodywork of the Fiat 131 for the obvious financial return from the success of the racing car. The Fiat-Abarth X 1/9 racing project therefore ended with the few prototypes that had been produced, with the entire team focusing on the design of the Fiat 131 Abarth Rally. As soon as the following season, the “131” began to rack up victories, until it brought home two drivers’ and three constructors’ championships in the 1977, 1979 and 1980 seasons. On the one hand, this demonstrated that the management had adopted the right strategy; on the other, it proved the great adaptability and quick wits of the Abarth designers and technicians.

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